'Protect the Sacred' gathering of Indigenous Nations to draft new treaty opposing pipelines

Nations from all across Canada and the United States will meet in unprecedented numbers to reaffirm 150-year-old peace treaty and sign new document to protect the environment and declare solidarity against oil sands development and pipelines. 

Image of women speaking at Gathering to Protect the Sacred

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the day Faith Spotted Eagle’s great-great-grandfather signed the historic peace treaty between the Ihanktonwan, Ponca and Pawnee Nations in territory that is now the Dakotas. To mark the occasion, nations from Canada and the US will gather in unprecedented numbers to reaffirm the peace treaty and hopefully sign a new, international treaty calling on both the Canadian and American governments to respect First Nations’ right to protect their traditional territories.

Organized by the group Protect the Sacred, the gathering will be held in Pickstown, South Dakota.

Spotted Eagle, a grandmother of the Ihanktonwan Nakota Oyate people, said the sheer number of people attending the gathering -- over 150 representatives -- is a sign the issue of oil sands and pipelines has reached a breaking point.

“I think our prophecies with our native people have indicated that there will be a time when we absolutely have to stand up, and this is that time,” she said. “We’ve been through so much, but out of all that oppression we’ve become more resilient.”

She added that the Indigenous Nations will also be standing together with the ranchers and farmers whose land and water would be polluted by oil development.

Water will be high on the agenda, in particular the breaching of the Winters Doctrine, a landmark United States Supreme Court decision from 1908 that gave First Nations’ laws of water use and conservation on reservations precedence over federal laws that attempted to reallocate the waters.

Spotted Eagle said that decision has been ignored for too long.

“We’ve been working on this gathering for about a year and it has been motivated by just being tired of being run over and disregarded,” she said.

In the context of the Idle No More movement sweeping Canada, the mobilization against oil development in South Dakota looks to be a significant step. 

“I look forward to great things coming out of this.”

Chief Rueben George from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in BC said his primary intention for the gathering is to share knowledge across nations and to strengthen the support network of those opposing the pipeline.

He will speak about the impact that Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline expansion has had in Canada.

“We’re covering the Enbridge pipeline and the Keystone XL and the tar sands, and it’s great to be part of it to organize our relations who feel the same way all along the Keystone route.”

He said he hopes to bring back messages of solidarity to those currently fighting the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.

“I believe that the relatives here in South Dakota and North Dakota and the relatives that come feel the same way,” he said. “It’s going to be a great forum for people to express how they feel about it.”

The event will be a three-day conference of traditional ceremonies and discussions. Hereditary chief of the Ihanktonwan First Nation and resident of White Rock Phil Lane Jr. said the original treaty, witnessed by the United States government, has been honoured by the First Nations but has been long disrespected by the government.

“150 years of peace has passed without any violation of this treaty,” he said.

“Out of that is coming a proclamation on behalf of the nations that this treaty has been violated because we have not been consulted about this Keystone XL pipeline. We intend to renew the treaty, celebrate the treaty and stand together to fight, and to fight side by side to stop the Keystone XL pipeline from coming across our lands.”

The new treaty will build on the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Save the Fraser Declaration and the 16 Principles for Building a Sustainable and Harmonious World, the latter of which Lane was a part of creating. The treaty will also aim to protect specific water sources such as the Ogallala aquifer, which runs beneath the Great Plains region of the US.

The draft treaty will be discussed with the leaders and a legal team before nations sign in. Conference organizers extended an invitation to President Obama to send a representative to the gathering by so far have received no response.  

Echoing the sentiments of the Idle No More movement, Lane said this is ultimately about uniting the whole of the human family and recognizing that protecting the land and the water is the responsibility of all peoples.

“We’re binding together to protect one another from the tar sands project across the United States and Canada. The violation of the sovereignty of one nation in Canada is the violation of all our sovereignty across the United States,” he said.

“There are no borders.”

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